Tropical Agriculture and Missions (Biol/Agric/Geog 343)

Costa Rica Campus - May Term


Course Description

An introduction to tropical agriculture for working with resource-poor farmers. Topics include the scientific basis behind successful low cost techniques, a survey of major tropical crops and their requirements, and on-site practical work. Selected issues in Christian missions and in community development, and some urban gardening and small animal techniques are also covered. Taught in a rural, mountainous village in Costa Rica in collaboration with a Christian organization aiding redevelopment after an earthquake, with several trips to different ecosystem regions of Costa Rica. Field, Applied.

Professor: Dr. Dave Unander, Tomas Dozier
Meets: Monday-Friday

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Knowledge Gained

  • Learning the major staple, fruit, and vegetable crops grown in the tropics and their particular needs and limitations
  • Introduction to soil science for agriculture
  • Practices of agroforestry, composting, small animal farming, and biogas systems in tropical environments
  • Understanding of key missions and development issues, such as how to enter a community, approaches to extension, and exploring different in-country living arrangements
  • Understanding tropical ecosystems, climate, and biomes

Skills Developed

  • Taxonomy of tropical agriculture plants
  • Ability to identify major plant families with important crops and understand the chemical characteristics of those families
  • Soil assessment and improvement techniques
  • Horticulture techniques, such as planting, grafting, and pruning
  • Communication techniques for conveying tropical agriculture practices in local communities, practiced through sharing tropical agriculture practices in the town of Vara Blanca
  • Approaches to fast language learning

Field Experiences

Previous classes have visited small dairy and strawberry farms in the mountains, small, diverse, farms in both wet and arid lowland areas; successful agricultural co-ops for coffee, sugarcane, cacao and organic bananas; agricultural researchers and field experiments at Univ. of Costa Rica, EARTH Univ., CATIE (Center for Research and Education in Tropical Agriculture - an international research program).  This is not primarily a farming techniques course, but we do some fieldwork half-days on farm. 

For our Au Sable integrative sessions, during the last four years, we have visited the actively steaming crater of Poas Volcano Natl. Park and the cloud forest around the crater at 9,000 ft.; Caihuita Natl. Park, a shore and estuary ecosystem on the Caribbean near Panama; the Organization for Tropical Studies research station at La Selva, a lowland rainforest area near the Nicaraguan border;  the watershed area of Arenal Volcano Natl. Park, an actively erupting, classical cone, with many hot springs.


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